Ukrainian president Vlodomyr Zelensky complained in an interview Friday that Israel had given his country “nothing” to help it defend itself, indicating that its leaders had been disingenuous in rejecting his requests for air defense systems.
“Israel gave us nothing. Nothing, zero,” Zelensky told France’s TV5Monde. “I understand they are in a difficult situation with Syria, with Russia.”
Though it has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Israel has repeatedly rebuffed Kyiv’s requests for defense weapons, specifically missile defense systems that could be used to fend off Russian airstrikes, despite expressing sympathy for the country’s plight.
The refusal is seen as an attempt by Jerusalem to maintain working ties with Moscow, due to Russia’s control of Syrian air space, where Israel’s air force has carried out hundreds of sorties against alleged Iranian arms shipments and in order to keep groups backed by Tehran from establishing a foothold.
Russia has largely turned a blind eye to the Israeli air strikes, though ties between Jerusalem and Moscow have suffered as Israeli has condemned its invasion of its neighbor.
However, Zelensky, who said he spoke to Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his predecessor Naftali Bennett about air defense supplies, indicated that he was told the reason for the refusal was that Israel needed the batteries for its own protection.
— TV5MONDE (@TV5MONDE) September 23, 2022
“I understand they need to defend their land, but then I got information from my intelligence services that Israel provides [the air defenses] in other countries. They can sell, they can export, which is why I am shocked.”
Israel keeps a lid on how many Iron Dome batteries it possesses and where they are deployed, but it has provided two of the systems to the US, which helped fund its development, and reports recently indicated a deal to sell batteries to Cyprus.
Reports in recent years have indicated plans to sell the system to other countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan. Such reports have not materialized or have been denied by Israel.
The short-range missile defense system has been credited with intercepting thousands of rockets fired by Gazan terrorists, saving hundreds of lives and remaking the shape of Israel’s defense strategy.
On Friday, Reuters reported that Israel has sold another air defense system, Rafael’s SPYDER, to the UAE.
Israel says it has supported Ukraine by sending over 100 tons of humanitarian aid and setting up a field hospital in western Ukraine for six weeks at the start of the war. It also shipped 2,000 helmets and 500 flak jackets that the Defense Ministry said would be given to rescue forces and civilian organizations.
Earlier this month, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site Zman Yisrael reported that an Israeli defense contractor was supplying anti-drone systems to Ukraine’s military by way of Poland.
The Ukrainian president, who is Jewish, expressed surprise in the French interview at Israel’s position, given the links between the two countries.
“You know there are many people in Ukraine of Jewish origin, and there are a lot of Ukrainians in Israel. How is it possible to have this attitude? I was shocked,” he said.
Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have consistently pressed Israel on the issue since the Russian invasion on February 24.
“While Russia slaughters our citizens, the Israeli government remains in its comfort zone and refrains from providing Ukraine with minimal defensive assistance,” Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, said in a Tel Aviv press conference in June.
In March, Zelensky brought up Iron Dome while addressing the Knesset.
“Everybody knows that your missile defense systems are the best,” he said by video feed. “You can definitely help our people, save the lives of Ukrainians.”